Atheists and the American Cancer Society: What To Do About It?


So yesterday, my story was posted in AlterNet about the American Cancer Society turning down a $250,000 matching offer from Todd Stiefel and the Foundation Beyond Belief, apparently because they were atheists. If you’re ticked off about this, the obvious next question is: What can I do about it?

That’s a really good question, and I wish I had a perfectly fabulous, magic- bullet answer. (I would love to see suggestions for action items in the comments!) The less perfectly fabulous but still reasonably good answers I can think of off the top of my head fall into roughly three categories:

1) Spread the word. Get word out about this story. Let your friends and family — atheist and non-atheist — know about it. The more people know about this and are talking about it, the more pressure gets put on the ACS to change their policy.

2) Try to get the story into the mainstream media. (I guess this qualifies as a steroid-injected version of #1.) Again: The more people know about this, the more pressure gets put on the ACS to change their policy. If anyone has contacts in the MSM, let them know what’s going on.

3) Let the American Cancer Society know how you feel. Write them, call them, email them. Or just take ten seconds to post your reaction on their Facebook page. As of this writing (about 1am California time on October 12), the American Cancer Society Facebook page is being deluged with posts about this matter. The overwhelming majority of posts on their wall right now are angry responses to this news. The more we keep that up, the more pressure gets put on the ACS to change their policy.

What else? Thoughts?

Comments

  1. Mattir says

    Would it be irrational to hope for Option 4: that Mr. Steifel makes a matching grant to another cancer charity and we raise even more than the $250,000 that he’d agreed to match? Preferably a cancer charity without such poor scores in the overhead to direct services ratio? I generally dislike participating in team-training style fundraising drives, but I will make a big exception for this.

    Really, I’m not sure ACS can recover from this at this point. They may well have damaged their brand name beyond recovery for a substantial number of atheist givers. (We should still try Options 1-3, however, if only to discourage other charities from pulling the same nonsense later on.)

  2. wasd says

    Option #4 Drop the subject entirely, write a check from a different bank account (whats a little money laundering between friends) and just help fight cancer without making it into this pathetic “who has the biggest donation” contest with religious types. It has been nagging me how clearly some egos were bruised after research showed non-religious types tend to donate less to charity even without taking in account all the money wasted on churches. It has been bothering me how public some people have been flaunting their donations ever since.

    Lets please not make matters worse by copying the white male capitalist christian rights persecution complex that is on display on FOX 24/7. Giving the money quietly should work precisely because this doesn`t appear to have been a set in stone cancer society policy. They just got cold feet when they realized they were at the center of a PR move to buy sympathy by people widely associated with Marxist satanism. Can we really blame them? More importantly can we really risk not letting a massive chunk of cancer research not happen because our PR move turned out to have been a little too bold? Turns out baby steps are needed, Live and learn. A good education is expensive my mother always says when money turns out to have been “wasted”. Just give the money quietly and move on.

    It just one other option worth putting out there.

  3. Mattir says

    More importantly can we really risk not letting a massive chunk of cancer research not happen because our PR move turned out to have been a little too bold?

    There’s nothing wrong with being bold – why should atheists have to be the Good Token Minority? And it’s only respect for the blog owner’s request that this not turn into Pharyngula that I’m not being more, um, Pharyngula-like in my tone.

  4. dochopper says

    If some one can turn away 250 grand they must not need my .02 cents.

    BTW what kind of a God creates disease like the cancer family that will eat someone alive ?

  5. lordshipmayhem says

    There are other cancer societies in other countries. If I were on the board of one of these non-American cancer societies, I’d be terrified of being tarred with the same brush as the American Cancer Society, and if I detected that my organization was being accused of another organization’s scewup, I’d want to get the word out real quick by issuing press releases to the MSM and backing them up with press conferences.

    Perhaps we should ask these other societies, in Canada, Britain, Australia, etc., to clarify their position vis-a-vis accepting donations from the non-religious.

    Knowing that other, exactly similar charities are pointing fingers and complaining loudly might just hit the American Christian Cancer Society upside the head with a clue-by-four.

  6. =8)-DX says

    Hmm, and I was actually thinking Christians are against curing cancer (cervical cancer via HPV anyone?)

    It’s sad this would be a complete non-issue in Europe.

  7. Kevin says

    It’s really quite simple.

    If everyone who is upset over this issue stopped donating to the ACS today, they would change their tune in about 15 seconds.

    It’s a pocketbook issue. That’s how the ACS perceives it. They thought that religious donors would object and withhold funding. Well, I know when I’m not wanted.

    And I’m not Todd Steifel rich, but I am pretty darn well off.

    I donate to a variety of causes every year from a fairly select list. I just became a member of Planned Parenthood and my local Public Radio station. I suggest we take the money that would have gone to ACS and give it to folks who value our participation.

    And for those of you who would complain that you’re cutting off funding for cancer research — the ACS devotes only 16% of its annual funding to research grants. A full 28%(!!) goes to administrative and fund-raising costs.

    There are other charities. Give to them instead.

  8. annesauer says

    I agree with the other commenters that the funds should go to a different cancer organization. However, I don’t see that step as exclusive of the other three. We can still spread the word and try to draw attention to this story, and frankly, I can’t think of a better way to try to get ACS to try to change its tune than by letting them know what we think and that we’ll be sending our dollars elsewhere. Nowhere in that message does it say that if they do change their policies or sincerely apologize, Todd Steifel and FBB have to go ahead with the contribution as originally planned. The goal is to make ACS–and anyone else who is paying attention–think twice before discriminating similarly in the future.

  9. jolo5309 says

    I suggest we take the money that would have gone to ACS and give it to folks who value our participation

    Just make sure you tell the ACS where your money has gone instead of them.

  10. Greta Christina says

    If everyone who is upset over this issue stopped donating to the ACS today, they would change their tune in about 15 seconds.

    Kevin @ #8: If you decide to do that, be sure to tell the ACS that you’re doing it. It’s worthless otherwise.

  11. Kerri says

    I agree with Jolo5309, and also let them know that the people who cure this disease will most likely be atheists, will they accept the cure?

  12. thztds says

    Option #4 Drop the subject entirely, write a check from a different bank account (whats a little money laundering between friends) and just help fight cancer without making it into this pathetic “who has the biggest donation” contest with religious types.

    I have to strongly disagree with this statement. While we should help fight cancer, we shouldn’t be forced to do it anonymously. Cutting another check and hiding one’s identity as an atheist just reinforces discrimination against atheists. ACS should either take the check, acknowledge who it is from and apologize, or some other worthy group should get the funds along with the public being alerted that ACS values somebody’s religious identity over actually looking for a cure for cancer.

  13. says

    I’ve informed my wife about this. She works for ACS part time. She says her boss has had a lot of trouble working with the national office. So, part of the problem might be that they are just too large of an organization. And their national office is in the Bible belt, I hear. So, I’m not sure what to suggest. Maybe donate more to local chapters or to local organizations.

  14. Liessi from BC says

    In 2007 and 2008, the Breast Cancer Society of Canada refused $7000 raised by “Exotic Dancers for Cancer” because other donors had “issues” with it. Why do I keep thinking these donors are the same ones who enjoy stuffing dollar bills into gyrating g-strings? Organizations that think like this can count me out of their donation pool. (The money was gratefully accepted by Rethink Breast Cancer, who obvious think that raising money to cure breast cancer is more important than raising their own PR profile.)

  15. Ahmazing Bailey says

    I received this response from the American Cancer Society after emailing them regarding my concern donating after reading the blog above:

    Thank you for taking the time to express your concerns regarding the American Cancer Society’s relationship with the Foundation Beyond Belief. Without the support of donors like you, the work we do would be impossible, and your thoughts are important to us.

    To be clear, the American Cancer Society turned down Mr. Stiefel’s request that the Foundation Beyond Belief become a National Team Partner in our Relay For Life program. We have not turned down his offer of a donation to our mission, and we certainly don’t want to discourage his or the Foundation Beyond Belief’s participation in Relay for Life. We are grateful for their interest in saving lives from cancer.

    Over the past several months the American Cancer Society has engaged in discussions with the Foundation Beyond Belief regarding a very generous donation offer. We have repeatedly tried to come to an agreement regarding the offer but have been unable to do so. The public debate that has ensued, we believe, undermines the shared passion both organizations have for our mission of saving lives from cancer. The Relay For Life National Team Partner program is aimed primarily at commercial corporations and their employee bases nationwide. Over the years, several non-commercial organizations have participated in the Relay For Life National Team Partner program; however, those engagements have not proved to be operationally efficient or cost effective for us. So we made the decision earlier this year to phase out the non-commercial part of the National Team Partner program. We have notified the participant organizations and are working with each of them to ensure their continued participation in Relay For Life and the Society’s mission. For this same reason, we had to respectfully and regretfully decline the Foundation Beyond Belief’s request to form a nationwide team.

    The Society has not turned down the Foundation Beyond Belief’s generous donation offer and encourage the group’s continued participation in Relay for Life

    I understand and concur with your belief in the right to religious freedom and freedom from religion alike, and am saddened by the loss of your support. I have made certain to forward your feedback on for further consideration.

    Thank you again for contacting your American Cancer Society, and for bringing your concerns to our attention. Your feedback is most valuable.

    Sarah
    Online Cancer Information Specialist

  16. Greta Christina says

    Ahmazing Bailey @ #18: Yes. That’s their boilerplate answer. It doesn’t respond to many of the basic questions being raised in this controversy: Why did their story change? Why did they initially accept the FBB’s offer and then turn it down? Why are other non-profits similar to the FBB participating in this program, but the FBB isn’t being permitted to do so? And why are they now covering their tracks and retrofitting their website to conceal participation by other non-profits and youth groups?

    Also, why are they feeling a need to issue the snarky, passive- aggressive slap at atheists for raising the issue in the first place? “The public debate that has ensued, we believe, undermines the shared passion both organizations have for our mission of saving lives from cancer.” Translation: Atheists should shut up about this.

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